Henry James, 1843-1916

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Henry James was born in New York City into a wealthy family. His father, Henry James Sr, was one of the best-known intellectuals in mid-nineteenth-century America, whose friends included Thoreau, Emerson and Hawthorne. His Irish grandfather had provided the wealth that endowed his heirs with the privileges of comfort and social affluence. James made little money from his novels. After living in Paris, where James was contributor to the New York Tribune, he moved to England, living first in London and then in Rye, Sussex. During his first years in Europe James wrote novels that portrayed Americans living abroad. James's most famous short stories include The Turn of the Screw, a ghost story in which the question of childhood corruption obsesses a governess.

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THE TURN OF THE SCREW (101 KB)
Fiction
The story starts conventionally enough with friends sharing ghost stories 'round the fire on Christmas Eve. One of the guests tells about a governess at a country house plagued by supernatural visitors. But in the hands of Henry James, the master of nuance, this little tale of terror is an exquisite gem of sexual and psychological ambiguity. Only the young governess can see the ghosts; only she suspects that the previous governess and her lover are controlling the two orphaned children (a girl and a boy) for some evil purpose. The household staff don't know what she's talking about, the children are evasive when questioned, and the master of the house (the children's uncle) is absent. Why does the young girl claim not to see a perfectly visible woman standing on the far side of the lake? Are the children being deceptive, or is the governess being paranoid? By leaving the questions unanswered, The Turn of Screw generates spine-tingling anxiety in its mesmerized readers.


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WASHINGTON SQUARE (134 KB)
Fiction
Originally published in 1880, Washington Square was praised for its depiction of the complicated relationship between a father and daughter. Catherine Sloper lives in New York City's fashionable Washington Square district with her aunt and her physician father. As Catherine is courted by Morris Townsend, her father threatens disinheritance, and Townsend abandons her. Only after her father dies, many years later, does Townsend attempt to return to the Washington Square house and to Catherine.

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